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updates for 06.17.2011

5 new posts today

Miss I can't work with her

"Why can't you work with her?" "Because miss.. you wouldn't get it."  - my student "Why wouldn't I get it. Let's talk it out. Tell me everything." - me "Miss, I just don't really like Mexicans." - my student **What did I do you ask? I told her that this was an act of racism and that she needed to work through this. Unfortunately, I had been warned that she can be quite "dangerous" according to these silly police officers outside my door which I think is ridiculous. So I told her to make me a list of people she "could work with" and that since I was cooperating with her that I would need a favor back in return. "I challenge you to work through these dislikes. I know it can be hard to work with people you don't like. I get it. But, in life you are going to have to work with many many people that you don't get along with and you're going to have to learn. So on Tuesday can we try to work with someone that isn't on this list? I would really like it if we could work on this skill together." - me "Sure, I can do that." - my student SUCCESS. She told me after that that I just didn't understand the racial lines at the school between black, whites, and hispanic students. I told her she was right and maybe she could help me out on that end. She agreed. So that was one sort of success story I guess.. ? But, all in all my class today was not TERRIBLE but I was definetely called names and when I called on my sleeper today and he refused to answer and I called him a second time, one of my girls yelled out "Just tell her to go away!" referring to me... awesome. It's a great journey I tell ya. Still love it though. The relationships I'm building with my students are phenomenal. It's just those three students that I really really really need to connect with in order to bring that classroom culture together. Today I think we were on the edge of the destructive path.. which makes me extremely sad. It's time to build a SOLID plan for Monday so that we can get this beast, referring to the achievement gap of course, defeated!! In the Words of Journey, Don't Stop Believin'


Almost there...

I've never kept a blog before, so we'll have to see how this goes. I never thought I would get into Teach for America. TFA seemed so unreachable that I was embarrassed to tell people I applied. Although I knew I was a good match, I assumed I wouldn't get in because it's so selective. I'm glad I was wrong. I'm thrilled to be a part of this movement, and I'm ecstatic to be in Delaware. Wilmington isn't far from my family, friends, or boyfriend at all. Everyone I adore will be 45 minutes- 2 hours away. How did I ever get so lucky? Since I learned of my acceptance a few months ago, it's been a lot of preparation. So much of my time has gone towards filling out paperwork, taking the Praxis, and completing pre-institute work (I still have quite a bit left! woops!). I also spent all of last Saturday building up my professional wardrobe (thanks, mom!), but I still need some cute, comfy shoes. I have the next week to pack, say my goodbyes, and go :] I'm trying to be as prepared as possible, but I'm sure I'll forget to do something. My TFA adventure begins at Delaware induction on Wednesday. I'm so excited to meet everyone and learn about education in Delaware! I know I'll make awesome friends over the next two years, but I can be really shy in a new environment. I'm sure there will be awkward introduction, maybe even some name games? I hope not! haha.


Same Kids, Same Building, Same Lies -- Redux

A few months ago after attending the 20th anniversary summit, I wrote a post about my progress in investigating a school that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan singled out in his keynote speech. Urban Prep is a small charter school that is located in what was once Englewood High School in Chicago, which was closed down in 2008 because of its high dropout rate and poor test scores. Duncan was head of Chicago Public Schools when the decision was made to shut down the public school. He cited the statistic that all 107 graduates were accepted into four year colleges, which got a big ovation from the crowd. In investigating I learned that the school originally had at least 166 students and that their state test scores, which Duncan neglected to mention, were 17% passing. Another stat which I did not write about was that under the No Child Left Behind program the school has failed to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) since it has opened. Diane Ravitch mentioned my findings in an op-ed in the New York Times that has gotten a lot of attention. Her critics have found a way to twist her words to false conclusions rather than try to figure out the bigger implications of her words. She was NOT saying that students in poverty are not capable of learning. As an historian of education who has written over a dozen books and has a celebrated career that includes being assistant Secretary of Education under George H. Bush, it is bizarre that anyone would accuse her of not knowing something that only the most ignorant people in the world don't know -- that it is possible for a student in poverty to overcome his or her obstacles and get very high achievement in school. She was also not putting down Urban Prep. The statistics are what they are, and she was just revealing them to make a point that is much bigger than whether or not the kids and teachers at Urban Prep are doing a good job. Her point is that Duncan, in his attempt to prove that the reforms that he is promoting (shutting down 'failing' schools and replacing them with charters) is working. She is pointing out the hypocrisy that Duncan will shut down one school with poor test scores and then ignore the poor test scores of another when that school could be used to prove what a good job he is doing. When he selectively ignores the statistics that make him look bad he deceives the public into thinking that his reforms work. Ravitch is not the one who puts much stake in test scores, Duncan is. The low test scores don't mean that good things aren't happening at Urban Prep. They certainly seem to be. But the fact that the public school that it replaced had low test scores too doesn't mean that good things weren't happening there as well. That's the point. Looking at the fact that the school, while being praised by Duncan, also failed to make AYP could mean two things. Either the school is not very good OR the way AYP is calculated is not very good. When I looked into it, I saw why AYP was not made, and why AYP will never be made under the current definition, and why I don't think ANY school in Chicago is making AYP. Under NCLB, every school must get 100% proficiency in Math and English by 2014. So there is a pacing chart with goals that schools must meet to be making progress that is considered even 'adequate.' For 2010 it was to get 77.5%. For 2011 it will be to get 85%. For 2012 it will be to get 92.5%. For 2013 they get a break and get to rest at 92.5% for another year. Then in 2014 they will need to get 100%. So it is not the school that is messed up, it is the calculation of AYP that is messed up. That's really what's going on here. Already, over 80% of the schools in the country are defined as 'failing' by this metric. Next year is will be 90%. How is this supposed to make students and their teachers feel that all their hard work results in being labeled a failure? The CEO of Urban Prep, Tim King, wrote a response to the Ravitch op ed in a recent Huffington Post article. In it, he admits that the test scores were only 17% passing. But rather than reach the same conclusion as Ravitch, which is that schools should not be shut down and teachers fired over poor test scores and failure to make AYP, instead he writes something that struck me as desperate and offensive to his own students. "These critics should be comparing apples-to-apples; not apples-to-grapefruits. Rather than paralleling our students' performance to children from all across Chicago, let's examine how Urban Prep students stack up against their peers: other African-American males in non-selective public high schools." Is he saying that black kids are apples while white kids are grapefruits, an entirely different species of fruit? Is he saying that their scores are OK, considering that the kids are black?  Am I crazy or is this a horrible example of low expectations and racism? If he really feels that it is unfair to compare students of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds, then why doesn't he try to influence his buddy Duncan to change the education policy in the country to account for that?


How to Apply Le Chatlier's Principle to Real Life

Le Chatelier’s Principle: Le Chatelier's principle predicts that when a stress is applied to an equilibrium mixture, the equilibrium will shift to relieve the stress. It is the night before induction and I’ll be flying from Detroit to Minneapolis in the morning. I am finally all packed and ready to go! I just got done with my MTLE (Minnesota Teacher Licensure Exam) for General Science, Grades 5 -8 last Friday. I honestly have no idea how I did, which is strange because I can usually predict with some degree of accuracy how I did on a given exam. The questions were on such random and specific topics, that I cannot be sure?! Let’s just say I haven’t been told the consequences if I didn’t pass the exam (and believe me, I have asked numerous times). Do I lose my job? Can I apply for temporary licensure without passing? Do I have time to retake the test? That doesn’t seem likely…by the time I am eligible to retake I’ll have already been teaching for a month?!!? Well TFA, that’s what you get for switching my subject no less than THREE times (ok actually it’s at no detriment to TFA, just to me, LOL!). Right now, I am just hoping for the best because I am very happy with my current placement and cannot wait to start teaching! I think I am finally starting to realize my score is out of my control at this point. So enough about my test and onto bigger and better things! With all this testing nonsense my pre-institute work got pushed to the backburner (I should clearly be finishing it right now instead of blogging). I plan to finish it up on the car ride to Minneapolis to Chicago next week when we head to institute. Luckily, I also know a number of other corps members who are also not done. Hopefully we can motivate each other to finish it up at induction. I am surprisingly not stressed about the fact that I am on exercise 2/8. The work will get done. It always does, even if it means pulling a couple all-nighters. That’ll bring back some college memories! TFA very selectively picks organized and driven people to be corps members, but they never asked me if I was a procrastinator. So, I guess procrastinators can be driven and organized? Hmmm…that’s bad logic. I am far from organized right now. Over the next two years, I’ll make an effort to procrastinate less (I’ll let you know how this goes). I got an e-mail this evening asking me if I would give a short speech at the opening dinner at induction tomorrow night. Why me? I do not have the foggiest idea. I am more than glad to do it though. I plan on telling my little story of how I heard about TFA on my way to Hawaii, discussing our hopes for our future students, and the importance of comradery and teamwork among the 2011 TC corps. I’ll write the speech on the plane during the couple hours I was supposed to use to do some institute work (cheers to more procrastination!). I want to touch on one part of my story that I left out in my last post (I’ll include parts of this briefly in my short speech tomorrow): Throughout my childhood, my Dad explained to me a countless number of times that when he was growing up in Pakistan he did not have the resources or teachers that I had. He always explained to me how lucky I was and he expected me to take full advantage of the educational opportunities that were presented to me. When I became aware that educational inequality existed in the United States (I was very focused on healthcare, so I had no idea for quite a while!), all those conversations that my Dad had with me came flooding back to my mind and I could not get TFA’s mission out of my head. After filling in that part of the story, I have to say it is ironic that it is my Dad who was the most conflicted about me joining TFA (I know that this is just him being a concerned parent). Le Chatelier’s Principle: I was in what we could call an “equilibrium state” after graduation. A lot of “stresses” were applied to me during after graduation, moving me into a “state of disequilibrium”. These stresses include: having to take a different MTLE due to another subject switch, house hunting, getting ready to move, institute work, going to institute, financing the start-up costs of TFA, etc. etc. I could go on and on here. However, I have decided to “shift my equilibrium to relieve the stress” because I am so excited to finally meet up with all the corps members and get this show on the road! Can you believe I’ll actually be teaching in one week?!? More to follow on induction/institute soon!


Day One Reflections

Day one is behind me.  I've gotten to work on my week one schedule, assigned my CMAs to the subjects they will be supporting, planned my meeting with the school administration I am having tomorrow am, talked about the Thursday school team meetings I will be facilitating throughout the summer to monitor the performance of my students and Corps Members, and so many other things! I am consistently impressed with what I will refer to as Institute 2.0. Life is very different (so far) from what I experienced in Los Angeles six years ago.  Technology is on-point, the food has been stellar, the location feels very connected to the city (green line runs behind my dorm), and the level of expectations for development are sky high.  One thing that was similar was the line for breakfast (and specifically coffee) I experienced this morning with my drowsy roommates.  Needless to say, tomorrow the same mistake will not be made as I brought my programmable coffee maker from Saint Louis.  Thank goodness! Tomorrow starts early (7 am) with traveling to my school site to meet the administration and as many faculty and staff members as possible.  You only get one chance to make a first impression and mine comes tomorrow!  I am so excited.  I will learn the bell schedule, dress code, attendance policy, room assignments, student enrollment and a number of other tantalizing bits of information in advance of Monday's official Institute start. I also am happy to say I got in a run tonight between sessions and when the dining hall closed.  Granted, it was only 25 minutes, however, it represents prioritizing exercise (one of my personal goals) and actually executing instead of just wishing I had executed.  I know how to get to the lakeshore path now and although I didn't make it tonight, I know on the next run, when I have more time, I will.  High expectations flow through both my personal and professional lives.  BRING IT ON.


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